Alcohol use disorder causes very real changes in the brain, particularly to levels of the neurotransmitter GABA and receptors for the neurotransmitter NMDA. Under normal circumstances, GABA prevents the brain from becoming overexcited. Alcohol causes increased levels of GABA, which the brain attempts to counteract by reducing the number of GABA receptors. Alcohol also prevents the excitatory neurotransmitter NMDA from being able to interact with its receptor to activate cells in the brain. The net consequence of these alcohol-induced changes is an overall reduction of brain activity that persists for as long as alcohol continues to be consumed.
The dangers of detox stem from these chemical imbalances: Sudden cessation of alcohol use results in a rapid decrease in the brain’s ability to regulate inhibition (loss of GABA in conjunction with abnormally low numbers of GABA receptors) and excitation (increased availability of NMDA receptors potentiates cell activity). These neurobiological events underlie mild and moderate withdrawal symptoms including tremors, anxiety, insomnia, profuse sweating and hyperthermia, which are all consequences of brain hyperexcitation. In severe cases, this rapid increase in brain excitability can cause potentially lethal seizures, delirium tremens and heart attack.
Even mild alcohol detox and withdrawal are associated with a risk of medical complications. It is always recommended that you consult with a medical professional before you start the detox process and undergo withdrawal symptoms in a clinically supervised environment.
Related Topic: Alcohol Detox
Delirium tremens is a severe symptom of AUD withdrawal, and affects 3–5% of people experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Delirium tremens symptoms include the standard physical symptoms of severe withdrawal (tremors, sweating, anxiety, nausea and vomiting) as well as global confusion, delirium, hallucinations, nightmares and disturbances in attention and awareness. These symptoms typically appear about three days after the onset of withdrawal and usually persist for 2–3 days, although in some cases they may last for up to a week.
Home Detox Relapse Rates
Relapse rates associated with home detox are somewhat difficult to get accurate statistics on, but an estimated 50–80% of people who detox without any form of treatment will relapse within a year. This data underscores the incredible value of rehab programs in alcohol use disorder recovery.